Castle Rock is a beautiful park right off the junction of Highway 9 and Highway 35 in Northern California. It is located right at the crest of the majestic Santa Cruz Mountains. There are around 35 miles of trail covered with redwood, Douglas-fir, and interesting rocks. What makes Castle Rock so great is its accessibility, ease of hiking, and rock climbing. The main park entrance is right off 35. You can't miss it on a weekend because there will be a line of cars parked on the road. Try to get here before 10AM if you want a parking spot.
Trip distance: ~3 miles
Terrain Rating: Very Easy
Hike In: 9AM
Hike Out: 11AM
We started at the parking lot of Castle Rock and took the first trailhead on the left that points to "Castle Rock." This is a small 0.8 mile loop that takes you to the aforementioned rock formation that is popular with climbers and especially yuppies following the next urban sports craze. When we went, there was a group of 6 people in their early 20s with very stylish climbing gear. As we attempted (1 to 2 move, and pretty easy climb) to climb across the rock, the group scanned my shoes in disapproval (I was wearing my Nike running shoes). After watching a few other people climb, we decided to leave the loop. The loop takes you all the way back around to the Saratoga Gap Trail. All of the trails are clearly marked so it's hard to get lost.
This is the most popular trail in Castle Rock. It goes past Castle Rock Falls, which was unfortunately dry because of the drought, and takes you through many beautiful viewpoints. When I was younger, I used to sit on the rocks and see plenty of wildlife - California news, snakes, golden eagles, falcons, etc. We only heard a few chirping birds almost 20 years later. One thing I always loved about Castle Rock is the abundance of refrigerator trees. Loc Tite thought I was joking when I first pointed them out in the valley's of Zion National Park. They're called that because the tree's exposed bark feels cool to the touch. I like to go around and put my hand around their barks on hot summer California days.
I won't spoil the rocks for you, because you should really go check them out for yourself! They really are incredible and surround the area with diverse beauty. The Saratoga Gap Trail isn't a loop trail, so about half-way we decided to turn around and head home. We passed a few groups, including one led by a park ranger. Castle Rock is a great choice for someone who isn't entire gung-ho about hiking but still wants to get outdoors for a few hours. It's fun to even just watch the rock climbers. Although not dog friendly, it's incredibly safe, female friendly and even offers a 0.08 mile accessible path with woodland views. This weekend, it was my way of burning off the heaps of mashed potatoes I ate at Levi's Stadium.